Haven’t a clue what ‘International Rover Week’ or ‘Kandersteg International Scout Centre’ are? That’s ok, you’re about to find out!
By Mary-Liz McGrath
So back in early November I was traipsing around campus (probably bored, probably in the rain) when I got a message from my Mam with a link to this page. It read ‘International Rover Week’, accompanied by a photograph of a marshmallowy thermal-clad Rover bobbing down a Swiss Alp on a bright red sled. Hmmmm…
The panic set in as I realised I had only 24hrs left to apply. Study would have to wait. But what exactly was I applying for?
According to the site it was a 7-day international friendship and Scouting experience set against the backdrop of the Swiss Alps. Our lodgings would be in ‘Kandersteg International Scout Centre’ (‘KISC’ for short), which, the website says, is essentially a ‘Permanent Mini Jamboree’. But what does that mean?
Nestled in the Swiss Alps just south of Bern, KISC opened its doors in 1923, realising Baden Powell’s dream of ‘one place, where Scouts can meet, live in peace and learn from each other’. We’d be doing all these things through igloo-building, ice-skating, hiking, sledding, and winter survival challenges, among other Scouty things. Not to mention reeling in the Rover Centenary on New Year’s Eve in style as an international group of Rover Scouts, the celebration complete with fireworks and an ice-bar (literally a pub-style bar made out of ice) serving hot drinks.
So at this point I hope you’re thinking ‘Wow, that sounds really awesome. Why haven’t I heard of International Rover Week before?’. The answer to that would be that the bi-annual event (one IRW in Winter, one in Summer) is quite a recent initiative. It’s only been running a few years, sometimes only once a year, and with a limited number of participants. Pani assured us however that that would soon change. KISC staff hope to make the bi-annual event a regular fixture, and open it up to more participants.
I distinctly remember being escorted by Pani, our wonderful event coordinator, to our living quarters for the first time: Out of the main flag-draped lodge, across the icy bridge (on which the Scottish Rover would part with a bit of his tongue a few days later, having dared himself to lick the metal handrail. NOT ADVISED!!!), through the mural-lined tunnel (which we would add to in the days following), across the road (that we were to clear and grit for a service project), and into the bristly forest. It was dark, and the only sound was the snow crunching under our feet. I remember looking up over the trees, still a bit bleary-eyed from travel, and asking Pani “Are those clouds, or is that a mountain?”. It was the latter, the white streaks in the sky that I had pointed to were in fact ledges of snow on the rocky face, which towered over the valley. A far cry from the low rolling hills of my home County, Meath. If I thought I was awe-struck, I heard Dakota, an Eagle Scout from Texas, say “It’s the first time I’ve seen proper snow.”.
There were too many highlights from the trip to write about, so you’re just gonna’ have to watch this video montage I put together from everyone’s footage instead.
One takeaway from the trip that I will stress in writing however was the positivity and friendship that came home with me. I waved goodbye to all the stress I had been feeling, and to my breakup blues, because I now had 29 new friends who would sit and listen to me rant until 2AM, who would trudge with me through a dark snowy forest in the middle of the night to get WiFi because I realised I hadn’t checked in for my flight, and who would support me through a tough bereavement, despite being half a world away.
My Summer interrail plans are also sorted now, with invitations to stay with my newfound Scout friends all across Europe.
When I recounted my IRW adventure to mates from uni, one asked “But how did you make friends so fast?”. “Because we’re Scouts”, was my reply. A bit vague for a non-Scout, but I’m sure all the Scouts out there know what I mean when I say that. It’s in our nature, something to do with our “Scout spirit”. It’s just how we are.
I recommend that every Scout experience IRW at least once in their Rover lifetimes, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for updates on the KISC Facebook page !
Kandersteg International Scout Centre is the World Centre of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement (WOSM)
You don’t have to travel across the ocean to have a transformative Scouting experience. But if you’re ever lucky enough to visit Kandersteg International Scout Centre in Switzerland, the results will be nothing short of legendary. Over winter break, Dakota Scott spent a week at Kandersteg.